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breakthrough in measuring pain may help to reduce opioid crisis

Breakthrough in Measuring Pain May Help Reduce Opioid Crisis

Breakthrough in Measuring Pain May Help Reduce Opioid CrisisResearchers at Indiana University’s School of Medicine have developed a blood test that identifies biomarkers in the blood which can help to determine the severity of a patient’s pain. The results could potentially help doctors to accurately measure pain on a scale. Some people believe this breakthrough in measuring pain may help reduce opioid addiction and ultimately the opioid crisis.

Currently, doctors must rely on their patients’ accounts of the amount of pain they are experiencing and suggest a treatment plan accordingly. A more accurate way to measure pain could lead to better treatment options for patients.

Breakthrough in Measuring Pain: Researchers Developed Prototype for Blood Test for Pain

The study was led by Alexander Niculescu, MD, Ph.D., a psychiatry professor, and was published in the Nature journal Molecular Psychiatry. Hundreds of participants were tracked to find biomarkers in the blood to that can help doctors to objectively determine how much pain a patient is experiencing. This blood test, which is the first of its kind, would also help doctors to understand a patient’s long-term prognosis.

The blood test can objectively tell doctors whether a patient is experiencing pain and how severe the pain is. It’s important to have an objective way to measure this symptom since until now the feeling of pain has been subjective. Physicians have to rely on what patients tell them about their pain or whatever clinical observations they can make to determine their patients’ pain levels. This blood test promises to give doctors a tool to treat and prescribe medications more appropriately for people experiencing pain.

Biomarkers in Blood Help Doctors Assess Pain Levels

The researchers looked at biomarkers in the blood. These biomarkers work in a similar manner to the way glucose is a biomarker to diabetes; they let doctors assess the severity of their patient’s pain and then provide appropriate treatment. It’s hoped this prototype may alleviate the problems that have contributed to the current opioid crisis.

The goal of pain management is to match the patient with the medication that is going to provide the best level of relief with the fewest side effects. Dr. Niculescu points out that through precision health, by having “lots of options geared toward the needs of specific patients, you prevent larger problems, like the opioid epidemic, from occurring.”

The study experts on the team found biomarkers that match with non-addictive drugs for treating pain and can also help to predict when patients may experience pain going forward. They will assist doctors in determining if a patient is experiencing chronic pain which may result in future Emergency Room visits.

Further research will focus on establishing whether there are some markers for specific conditions, such as headaches or fibromyalgia, or for ones that work better for men or women.

VR addiction treatment

Will VR Addiction Treatment Work? Will Arizona Rehabs Incorporate Into Treatment?

VR Addiction Treatment – Will Arizona Rehabs Incorporate Into Treatment?

As the opioid crisis in the United States continues to escalate, treatment options for addictions of all kinds are more available and varied than ever. Throughout the country, there are addiction treatment centers in most major metro areas, and new techniques and treatments are being developed all the time. Technology has naturally played a major role in the evolution of the treatment of addiction and substance abuse, and nowhere is that more evident than in the advent of VR addiction treatment. Indeed, virtual reality technology, which is mostly associated with immersive video games, is increasingly being used in addiction recovery. Read on to learn more about how Arizona rehabs are looking into VR for addiction treatment as a viable option.

What is VR Therapy?

Before delving into what VR therapy is all about, an important caveat: This technology is still in its infancy, and much more research is needed to determine its overall efficacy. With that being said, this type of therapy involves using virtual reality technology, which immerses users in eerily realistic virtual worlds, to address various aspects of addiction. Most commonly, the technology is used to expose people in recovery to triggers and stressors in safe, clinical environments. It is also being explored as a way of making therapy more immediately accessible to those who are at risk of relapse. Some researchers are even exploring the use of the technology as a form of pain control.

History of Virtual Reality for Therapy

Buzz about virtual reality technology has reached a fever pitch lately, so it’s easy to assume that its use in therapeutic and medical settings is fairly new. However, virtual reality has been explored as an option in addiction treatment for some time. During the 1990s, for example, a doctor at USC treated war veterans with PTSD using VR technology. Later, they branched out to treat conditions like depression and schizophrenia with the technology too.

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In the early 2000s, Dr. Patrick Bordnick of Tulane University’s School of Social Work examined the use of virtual reality technology in the treatment of nicotine addiction. His research proved that the technology could trigger cue reactivity in smokers. Cue reactivity is a form of learned response that involves reactions to certain drug-related stimuli, or cues. The fact that VR technology can do this is significant because it offers a way for patients to work on positive reactions to such stimuli in safe, therapeutic environments.

VR Addiction Treatment and Environmental Triggers

As anyone who is in recovery can tell you, even the strongest resolve in the world can be no match for certain triggers. For a smoker, for example, that morning cup of coffee can be enough to make them want to light up. One of the most exciting promises of VR technology when it comes to addiction treatment is its ability to allow people in recovery to “face their fears” virtually. VR technology has come so far that when using it, people really do feel like they are immersed in the virtual world, so their reactions are genuine.

In the studies of VR therapy’s effects on nicotine addiction, researchers found that the technology made a difference when used in tandem with nicotine replacement therapies. Now, researchers are exploring ways in which the technology might be used to treat addictions to opiates. In fact, some versions of this technology place users directly in “heroin caves,” where they are presented with many triggers and cues. The resulting cravings can then be worked through safely with clinicians. Should the person encounter such triggers in the real world, it is hoped, they will be better equipped to cope with them in a healthy way.

Can VR Therapy Be Used to Ward Off Relapse?

Relapse is a common and natural part of the recovery process for many. Naturally, anyone with clean time under their belt wants to avoid it, but willpower often isn’t enough. Support groups urge those in recovery to hit a meeting or to call their sponsor when urges arise, but it isn’t always easy or possible to do. The hope is that VR technology may be turned to by those in recovery for immediate help when the urge to use strikes.

Noah Robinson of Vanderbilt University has spearheaded research into this area of VR therapy. He believes that by making therapy as accessible as, say, heroin, addicts would stand a much better chance of working through triggers and cravings that may lead them into relapse. The doctor has stated that the technology is akin to a “scalable intervention”—one that can be conducted by a single person and the appropriate VR technology.

The Accessibility Problem

To be sure, there is real promise in the use of VR addiction treatment, and the technology has progressed by leaps and bounds over the last handful of years. Even so, it is still a considerable investment for most people, so the odds of it becoming something that is used regularly in private homes any time soon are slim. More likely, the technology will begin finding its way into addiction treatment centers and Arizona rehabs, where it may be used in conjunction with proven therapies and treatments.

Will VR Therapy Ever Replace Traditional Treatment Options?

Some people believe that we will all exist mostly in a virtual realm someday. For now, though, we are all stuck in the real world—and VR therapy alone isn’t enough to ensure long-term sobriety. As exciting as the technology may be, traditional addiction treatment options are and will continue to be an integral part of any recovery. Many Arizona rehabs are available to help, including Desert Cove Recovery, so take the first step today.

Nearly $3 Million Allocated to Synthetic Marijuana Study

synthetic marijuanaSynthetic marijuana, often known as K2 or Spice, has become popular among younger children as an alternative to regular marijuana and other drugs. Children and teenagers are more likely to use the drug over organic marijuana because these substances can often be found at gas stations and convenience stores around the country. However, synthetic marijuana is extremely dangerous, even after very little use. In fact, there have been hundreds of incidents across the nation of people using different variations of the drug and having seizures, psychotic episodes and even becoming homicidal or suicidal.

One of the main problems with synthetic marijuana is that there is very little known about the drug. This is not a drug that is being produced in any regulated laboratory, so there is no type of oversight whatsoever. Despite the fact that many states have banned the substances, chemists overseas who make the drugs alter their formulas to circumvent the laws to keep more drugs filling the shelves.

In order to find out more about synthetic marijuana, a research team has been granted nearly $3 million to study the these drugs. Scientists at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) have committed to a five-year study that will look into the effects of synthetic marijuana use. This is especially important because the phenomenon is relatively new, and not much is known about the long term implications of the drug.

“Synthetic cannabinoid products such as K2 and Spice are deceptively marketed as safe and legal alternatives to marijuana, but admissions to emergency rooms and calls to poison control centers suggest that they are certainly not safe,” said Paul Prather, Ph.D., the study’s principal investigator and professor in the UAMS College of Medicine Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology. “Users of these products are experiencing psychosis, seizures, heart attacks and even death.”

In addition to studying the long term effects of synthetic marijuana, scientists also hope to find out more about the type of people that are most likely to use the drug. This information would help lawmakers and public officials in creating specialized public service announcements, targeting key demographics. More information about it can also help treatment professionals counteract the effects of the drug and develop specialized protocols, if needed.

New Research Targets Alcohol Cravings

euroneuropsychScientists have been hard at work researching ways to help those that suffer from addictions to alcohol. After two trials were conducted, one on humans and one on rats, there may be new hope for those that have developed alcohol dependencies.

In addition to treatment, medication that stabilizes the dopamine levels in a person’s brain seems to have a positive effect on minimizing the cravings for alcohol. Pia Steensland, the co-author of both studies, acknowledges that larger trials need to be conducted but that this is a positive step in the right direction and serves as a proof of concept. She is a neuroscientist at Karolinska Institute in Sweden.

People who struggle with alcoholism are often put on medications that cause an intense reaction when the patient consumes alcohol. These medications are given because they directly interact with the alcohol and prevent the person from feeling the effects of the substance. However, the medication is only effective if the person takes it. There are other medications used as well that have shown some results, though having more treatments available for people would be very beneficial.

This type of research is vital because every year 88,000 people die from alcohol-related causes, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). In addition to those who have passed away, the U.S. currently has more than 16 million adults with some type of alcohol use disorder (AUD). The consequences of alcohol consumption spread far and wide.

This particular research targets dopamine levels in the brain. Someone under the influence of alcohol experiences increased dopamine levels, and then cravings kick in later seeking more. By targeting the dopamine directly, the results are that people will crave alcohol less, and that can be a life-saving assistant for someone in recovery. The study appeared in the journal European Neuropsychopharmacology.

Researchers Examine Treatment for Brain Damage Caused by Cocaine

uthealthOne side effect of heavy cocaine usage can be brain damage. An addiction to cocaine is difficult to overcome due to the extreme cravings, but brain damage from the drug makes it even harder for addicts to stay away.

For many years doctors and scientists have been working to help those whose brains have been damaged from cocaine use. Now, doctors at UTHealth Medical School are conducting an experiment using a diabetes drug called Plytieulong. The hope is that the drug will help reverse some of the negative effects cocaine has on the brain.

Scans of people’s brains who have abused cocaine for many years show large white spots. This is where the damage has been done. It was discovered that Plytieulong helped to reverse the damage and now scientists are conducting an experiment to see how extensive the reversal is. They have created two groups. One group of cocaine users are receiving a placebo drug, while the other group is receiving the Plytieulong. Scientists are watching the two groups to see if the drugs are as promising as they hope. In the future, the same drugs may also be used to treat other brain damage, whether caused by addiction or different diseases.

“I think this study is important because of the impact of addiction in general. There are estimates as high as 24 million Americans have a drug use disorder yet only a small percent of them are actually receiving treatment,” explained Dr. Joy Schmitz, one of the doctors conducting the study.

Cocaine abuse is not in the media as much as heroin or prescription drug abuse, however it is just as damaging to addicts and takes an extreme toll on users both mentally and physically. While the study is not complete, the hopes are that people who suffer from an addiction to cocaine will soon be able to receive help in repairing some of the damage they caused to themselves by using the drug.

Former Addicts Have Higher Risk of Abusing Painkillers

painjournalAchieving and maintaining sobriety may be one of the most difficult things a person can do in life. Drug and alcohol addicts generally have a high relapse rate, so a thorough aftercare plan is very important to maintaining long-term sobriety. Attending meetings, talking with a counselor, and staying away from drugs and alcohol are important components post-treatment recommendations.

Recently a study conducted by researchers at the Cleveland Clinic and published in the Journal of Pain discussed the likelihood of former addicts misusing therapeutic painkillers. They found that it is important for doctors to understand their patient’s history before prescribing narcotic painkillers.

“Cross addiction is a well-studied phenomenon in which patients recovering from one substance are encouraged to avoid all mind altering substances,” explained Dr. Sylvester Sviokla. This is mostly due to a person’s inclination to take anything that will alter their senses. If the person cannot take their drug of choice, they are easily persuaded to take a different drug. When a patient complains of pain it is vital for physicians to get a complete history so as to eliminate the threat of prescribing narcotic painkillers to a patient who has had problems with addiction in the past, or at least to monitor the patient closely if they are needed.

The study followed almost 200 patients that were formerly addicted to other substances and had problems with pain. Researchers found that patients who had never been addicted to a drug or alcohol had a 25% chance of becoming addicted to narcotic painkillers. On the other end, 83% of former addicts were likely to abuse painkillers, even if they were prescribed for a legitimate problem.

In order to avoid aiding patients to relapse, it is vital that doctors have a complete history of prior drug use. Discussing all the risks associated with taking prescription painkillers is also advised, as well as finding other solutions to the pain that do not involve substances with such a high potential for abuse, if at all possible.

Alcohol and its Link to Strokes

strokecoverAs if more reasons were needed to not drink alcohol, scientists who have been researching strokes for many years have recently found a connection between the likelihood of a stroke and a person’s alcohol consumption. These researchers have published a paper stating that people who drink more than two drinks a day during their middle ages are more likely to experience a stroke sooner than a person who does not consume that much alcohol, or any at all.

Strokes occur when there is a problem with the blood supply that the brain needs. There are two different ways the blood supply can be affected and result in a stroke. The first is when the blood is blocked from reaching the brain and the other is when a blood vessel within the brain bursts.

“Our study showed that drinking more than two drinks per day can shorten time to stroke by about five years,” explained Pavla Kadlecova, an employee at St. Anne’s University Hospital International Clinical Research Center in the Czech Republic and one of the researchers on the study.

In order to go about investigating a link between alcohol and strokes, researchers reviewed 11,644 sets of twins, all of which were middle aged. The study followed these twins starting in 1967. The participants were asked a series of questions in 1967 and then again in 1970. They continued to monitor the subjects throughout their lives and by 2010 had a plethora of data regarding lifestyle, health problems and in some cases, causes of death. About 30 percent of the subjects had strokes, and the scientists then classified them by their alcohol consumption; light, moderate, heavy or none.

Taking this information, researchers were able to calculate that the risk for a stroke was even greater for those that drank more than moderately and were over the age of 50. The scientists were also able to state that the connection between drinking heavily during the middle of one’s life is more of a factor than genetics when assessing risk for a stroke. For those people who consumed more than average amounts of alcohol during their ‘50s and ‘60s, a stroke could come much earlier than someone who had not participated in the same level of drinking.

Unusual Lab Serves as Testing Ground for Alcohol Abuse Research

niaaanewThe start of a New Year brings resolutions to quit abusing alcohol for many people around the country. Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all therapy, so the National Institutes of Health (NIH) continues to search for new treatments and medications that target the brain’s addiction cycle in hopes of finding new treatments.

Researchers at the NIH in Bethesda, Maryland, are testing a possible new treatment to help heavy drinkers. The treatment has the potential to help alcohol abusers cut back on the amount they consume. Using a replica of a fully stocked bar where everything looks real – from the alcohol bottles to the taps – the researchers are testing to see how a hormone called ghrelin that sparks people’s appetite for food also affects their desire for alcohol, and if blocking it helps.

“The goal is to create almost a real-world environment, but to control it very strictly,” said lead researcher Dr. Lorenzo Leggio.

The researchers theorize that sitting in the dimly lit bar-laboratory setting should cue the volunteers’ brains to crave a drink, and help determine if the experimental pill counters that urge. The real alcohol is locked in the hospital pharmacy, ready to send over for the extra temptation of smell — and to test how safe the drug is if people drink anyway.

NIH’s bar lab is one of about a dozen versions around the country where the focus is on ghrelin. This hormone is produced in the stomach and controls appetite via receptors in the brain. There’s overlap between receptors that fuel overeating and alcohol craving in the brain’s reward system, explained Leggio.

In a study published this fall, his team gave 45 heavy-drinking volunteers different doses of ghrelin, and their urge to drink rose along with the extra hormone.

He is now testing whether blocking ghrelin’s action also blocks those cravings, using an experimental drug originally developed for diabetes but never sold. They want to ensure mixing alcohol with the drug is safe in the first phase of the testing, however, researchers also measure cravings of volunteers. The volunteers are hooked to a blood pressure monitor in the tiny bar-lab, smell a favorite drink. Initial safety results are expected this spring.

The NIH hopes that in the future, there will be a simple blood test that tells what medication/ treatment will work best for each individual seeking help. However, they have continually stressed that medication works best in conjunction with other forms of treatment and therapy, as a pill alone rarely, if ever, solve the problem.

New Link Between Substance Abuse and ADHD Discovered

adhdpetscanResearchers have been studying the potential link between adolescents with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and substance abuse. A study that is currently being conducted seems to prove that the two problems are share some commonalities.

By studying 1,778 14-year-olds, the research team was able to connect substance abuse and other disorders to the same area in the brain. The study asked the teens to do several tasks while undergoing an MRI, they were also asked to answer personality questions about themselves. The same tests were administered two years later as well.

While the results have not yet been published, some statistics from the study have been released. The research team found that of those tested 4.4% were classified as having ADHD. By the time the group reached the age of 16 the amount of them diagnosed with the disorder rose to 6.6%. The team also measured the amount of teenagers who were engaging in alcohol and/or other substance abuse. When the group was 14 years-old, 3.7% of them were abusing alcohol and 10.6% of them were abusing some sort of substance. When the group got tested at the age of 16 the numbers rose to 18.0% and 27.1%, respectively.

In order to establish a link between substance abuse and ADHD, the researchers used a statistical model to assess the risk factors that were linked to certain psychiatric symptoms. The outcome of using this model was that the research team could isolate three factors that linked substance abuse to an attention disorder.

Of the teens tested who had both a mood disorder and were ingesting drugs and/or alcohol, they had three common traits: impulsive action, impulsive choice and reward sensitivity. “Thrill or sensation seeking and abnormal activity in frontal brain regions when anticipating rewards differentiated youth who were uniquely at risk for alcohol misuse relative to those at risk for problems generally,” stated Natalie Castellanos-Ryan, who helped conduct the study.

By utilizing the data gathered in this research study, the hope is that the medical community will be able to identify early on those children who are at risk for substance abuse and intervene before there is a problem.

Researchers Set to Study the Effect of Marijuana on Adolescent Brains

potattitudesSurprisingly, with all the studies out there relating to drug abuse and human behavior, no one really knows for sure how marijuana affects the developing brain. While some people insist that marijuana is a harmless drug whose medical benefits far outweigh any negative side effects, there is not enough data to say for sure how dangerous or harmless it really is. Now that more and more states have voted to legalize marijuana in some fashion or another, researchers are anxious to study the effects of the drug on developing brains.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) is planning to head a study that compares the developing brain of an adolescent who does not consume marijuana over time to the developing brain in an adolescent who uses marijuana. Researchers want to know what effects marijuana has on the developing brain. Along with the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the National Cancer Institute and the National Institute of Child Health and Development, the groups will fund a large scale research study to hopefully provide answers to questions that have gone unanswered for a long time.

The study will recruit 10,000 adolescents and follow them for at least ten years. Every two years, the young people will receive a brain imaging scan as well as an interview focusing on their drug use. Researchers intend to recruit study participants from lower income families and families with known drug addicts.

Researchers are aware that the biggest hurdle in the study will be to gain the trust of the participants. Accurate, honest answers are the only way the study will be valid. Additionally, the study proves to be extremely expensive. It is projected that the study will cost at least $300 million.

Another question that researchers have to answer is how they are going to maintain the same tools throughout the ten years. Because advancements in technology are being made so quickly, it is likely that whatever imaging tool the study employs will no longer be relevant towards the end of the study.

The medical community is anxious to see the results of the study because it is important to more specifically understand the effects of marijuana on the growing brain.